By Elias Hazou
The 114 migrants who landed at Akrotiri last week were on Tuesday moved to Dhekelia within Britain’s Sovereign Base Area (SBA).
Buses carrying the migrants left Akrotiri at around 2pm.
A spokesperson for the British Bases in Cyprus said in a statement: “We can confirm that the migrants have been moved to a temporary transit facility to provide more suitable accommodation. Base operations continue to be unaffected and are running as normal.
“The UK government has been clear that it will not allow a new migrant route to open up to the UK. We will continue to work closely with the Cypriot authorities.”
The migrants have been put up in lodgings outside the perimeter of the Dhekelia military base. The lodgings avail of facilities catering to vulnerable persons such as children, the spokesperson said.
They are not staying in Richmond Village, an ex servicemen’s quarter within Dhekelia SBA.
Richmond Village is where sixty-six Iraqi and Syrian Kurds, who washed ashore at RAF Akrotiri back in 1998, are currently living.
Asked what next for the migrants, the spokesperson said it depends on their asylum applications.
“If they do not claim asylum, the SBA remains responsible for dealing with them. It’s possible they could be returned to their place of origin.
“If they are granted asylum, they would be free to reside within the Republic.”
It was not clear how many of the 114 have requested asylum thus far, although earlier unconfirmed reports spoke of only a handful having done so.
Officials from the foreign ministry’s crisis management unit could not immediately be reached for comment.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the migrants are mostly Syrians and Palestinians fleeing the war-torn region.
They are said to have been headed for the Greek island of Rhodes, but for reasons unknowns landed at Akrotiri last Wednesday.
The fate of the 114 hangs in the balance, owing to differing interpretations of a 2003 agreement between Cyprus and British authorities on the handling of migrants arriving directly on SBA territory.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence insists the refugees are the responsibility of the Cypriot authorities.
But the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says the UK is responsible.
During a court case in 2011, the UNHCR cited an extract from the February 2003 Memorandum of Understanding.
The extract from the agreement is explicit and reads: “Noting that the United Kingdom through the Sovereign Base Areas Administration has the responsibility for illegal migrants and asylum seekers that enter the island of Cyprus by the Sovereign Base Areas.”
Cyprus must grant asylum seekers arriving directly in the SBA free medical care, welfare benefits, the right to apply for a work permit and access to education. The UK “will indemnify the Republic of Cyprus for the net costs incurred.”
The critical extract is this: “The United Kingdom, through the SBAA [SBA administration], will endeavour to resettle persons recognised as refugees or granted any other form of international protection in countries willing to accept those persons, and not later than one year after the decision granting the relevant status has been taken.”
The grey area relates to what happens to those people who do not seek asylum or are not granted refugee status.